SWEET ON YOU | LAUREL HEIGHTS

 

sweetonyou

Sugar and spice and everything…naughty?

Pastry-chef-to-the-stars Daniela Rossi wants one thing: the abandoned building South of Market. Turning it into a soup kitchen for the homeless is the only thing that’s excited her in months. And Daniela needs to feel again.

Except she finds herself feeling too much—for the man who’s competition for the property.

Ruthless entrepreneur Nico Cruz wants one thing: the abandoned SOMA building he grew up in, where his brother was killed. Destroying it is the only thing that will set his brother’s soul at peace. And Nico always gets what he wants. But Daniela’s sweet temptation makes him question what it will take to soothe his own soul. { scroll down for sneak peek! }

 

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SNEAK PEAK
Sweet On You • Chapter One

Daniela lay on the cold tile of Ground for Thought’s kitchen and contemplated her life. It was, in short, a mess.

Her grandmother used to tell her there was a recipe for everything. If her grandmother were still alive, she’d say this was no different. Nonna would tell her she needed to taste the ingredients of her life and figure out the right balance of flavors.In this case, the ingredients were one slight Italian woman, a full serving of hot blood, a dash of stubbornness, all spiced with a talent for cooking—plus a liberal dose of unhappiness.

It just added up to a bitter dish.

The kitchen’s swinging door creaked open. “Daniela? Are you still in here?”

Caught. She sighed. She’d hoped for more alone time. “Yes.”

The confident clacking of heels sounded on the tiles, and then her friend Eve was standing over her, peering down. “I thought you came back here to make a private phone call. What are you doing lying on the floor?”

“Thinking.”

“My kitchen floor is better for thinking than yours?”

“Your kitchen is nicer.” It was smaller than hers, but it was finished and homey. There was the lingering scent of vanilla and sugar, and it reminded her of baking with Nonna. It also didn’t have construction going on, a nosy assistant hovering close by, or telephones ringing nonstop. “It’s peaceful here.”

Eve stared down at her, hands on her hips. Then she kicked off her shoes and sat cross-legged next to Daniela. “Want to talk about it?”

“No.” She shook her head. It should have been uncomfortable on the stone tile, but her mass of curly hair provided good cushioning.

“Do you want to bake something? Baking always makes me feel better, especially when I do it with a friend.”

Hell no.” Unable to stay stationary, she popped up to sitting and faced Eve. “Can I make a confession?”

“Of course.”

“I haven’t baked in months.”

Eve’s pretty face scrunched up. “You baked the cake for my wedding a few weeks ago.”

“That’s the only thing I’ve baked since the summer.” It’d been a labor of love, because Eve was the only one who’d treated her like a person instead of a commodity.

Daniela frowned at her new friend. “Why is that, anyway?”

“Why is what?”

“That you treat me like I’m a real person.”

“Have you been sniffing powdered sugar?” She put a hand on Daniela’s forehead. “You feel warm. Maybe you’re feverish. Maybe I should call Marley.”

“Don’t threaten me. I don’t want to talk about my traitor-of-an-assistant.” She pursed her lips. “Or the man formerly known as my brother. Tony is dead to me.”

Grinning, Eve shook her head. “You’re so Italian sometimes.”

“I know. I’m a walking stereotype.”

“But you own it and make it work for you.” Eve tucked her hair behind her ear. “So tell me about your brother.”

“I told you already. He’s dead to me. If my grandmother were still alive, I’d ask her how to curse him. Nonna had the evil eye.”

“He must have seriously upset you to make you want to put the evil eye on him.”

Seriously upset didn’t begin to cover it. “For my birthday, he had his secretary send me flowers.”

“That’s nice, isn’t it?” Eve asked carefully.

“No, it’s not. The card read Best Regards for Another Year.” She paused meaningfully. “That was it. It wasn’t signed or anything.”

“Oh.”

“And it was my thirty-fifth birthday.” Eyes narrowed, she pointed a finger at Eve. “Everyone says thirty is awful, but it’s thirty-five that smacks you upside the head.”

“Should I worry that you just cursed me?”

“It’s nature’s curse.” She slumped. “It hit me hard, and Tony didn’t even have the decency to call me to see how I was doing. I ate take-out Chinese food at my coffee table in the living room as I watched TV. It was pathetic. Iwas pathetic.”

“There wasn’t anyone else you could have spent the day with?”

“No. These days, people like me for what I do, not who I am. I’ve become all fame and no substance.” She threw her hands in the air. “What have I done with my life? I bake cookies for spoiled, rich people.”

“But you love to bake.” Eve frowned. “Don’t you?”

“I used to. Now I’m not sure. I’ve become a brand instead of a person. Even my own brother sees me as a dollar sign.” That was what upset her most, because Tony had once been her best friend.

Eve touched her arm. “Have you told him you’re upset?”

“No. I’m sulking at the moment.” Daniela stuck her lip out just a little more to show her pique.

“Yes, you are.”

“It’s very satisfying.”

Eve laughed. “In the long run, you should say something to your brother. Otherwise, he won’t know he did something wrong.”

“That’s the problem. I’m afraid I’ll tell him and he still won’t realize he did something wrong.” She shook her head sadly and stood up, brushing off the back of her jeans. “I appreciate the talk though. And the use of your kitchen floor.”

Laughing, Eve stood up and hugged her. “My kitchen wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for you. You’re welcome to use the floor, and anything else, whenever you like.”

That thing in her chest that had been tight for so many months loosened a tiny bit in the warmth of Eve’s friendship, and she squeezed her new friend tighter. “Maybe moving to San Francisco wasn’t complete insanity.”

“San Francisco is never a bad idea, and moving to Laurel Heights was serendipity.” Eve linked an arm through hers and walked her out. “We take care of our own.”

The community was why she’d impulsively decided to move. She’d done a booksigning at Grounds for Thought and had fallen in love with the neighborhood. Eve had introduced her to her women friends, all professionals but, more importantly, all welcoming and nice. Plus, Laurel Heights had seemed like the ideal place to open a West Coast flagship kitchen.

Though finishing the remodel hadn’t been high on her priority list lately.

“Want a biscotti for the road?” Eve asked.

“No.” Turning down biscotti was a true testament to her state of mind. She loved biscotti, especially Eve’s. They weren’t like her nonna’s, but they were a close second. “I think I’m going to go for a walk.”

“Good decision.” Eve gave her another hug. “I’m having a girls’ night at my place next week. Will you come?”

She hesitated. She’d never been the kind of woman to have many girlfriends. She’d had her brother growing up, and then she’d been focused on her career. Women chefs were few and far between, and the few she knew were more competitive than friendly. “I’ll think about it.”

“Let me rephrase my statement,” she said, holding Daniela’s arm. “You arecoming. Bring champagne.”

Shaking her head, Daniela walked out of the café, marveling at how smart Eve was to make going to her girls’ night so easy. Maybe she’d actually go.

Thinking about it, about her brother, and about the career she was beginning to hate, she walked up Sacramento, past Fillmore, not caring that the hill was steep. People complained about San Francisco’s hills, but she loved them. Walking up one made her feel like she’d accomplished something.

God knew she hadn’t done much lately. She’d been avoiding making decisions on everything and, consequently, everything was on hold—catering gigs, interviews, appearances… And then there was the remodel on her new boutique outlet in San Francisco. She’d managed to convince Tony that it was a good idea to open a West Coast office, but the construction wasn’t done yet.

It was her fault. She’d been dragging her feet on making decisions. Now, the wolves were closing in.

Well—wolf, singular. Her brother. He’d been pressing her to get off her butt and make things happen.

Antonio Rossi wasn’t her favorite person right now. How could you be too busy to wish your beloved younger sister happy birthday? Granted, her parents hadn’t called either that day, but they’d had an excuse: they’d been somewhere in India and had called as soon as they could.

Daniela looked around and realized she’d walked all the way downtown. With a shrug, she kept walking, all the way to the Embarcadero and the Ferry Building.

She loved the Ferry Building. It was a place to indulge all your senses. She walked through the vendors slowly, watching the people, smelling the spices in the air, looking at all the food. Normally she’d have spent hours milling about through the shops. Today she walked through the building to the piers outside.

A movement by one of the Dumpsters caught her attention. Too vigorous to be a rat, she blinked in surprise when she saw it was a boy.

His hair was scraggly and sticking up in various places. He wore jeans that were too big, bunched a little at the waist. His T-shirt stuck out from the bottom of his oversized hoodie. In his hand, he held half a baguette that he’d obviously scrounged out of the Dumpster.

Her heart sank. She reached for her purse to pull out some money to give him for food but realized she hadn’t brought a purse.

Then he pulled out a ragged stuffed animal. Tucking it in his sweatshirt, he picked up the small store of food he’d harvested from the garbage and walked away, furtively looking around like he was worried about being caught.

The food she understood—he was obviously hungry—but the stuffed animal perplexed her. She guessed he was twelve or thirteen. He was in that gangly, awkward phase that happened right before adolescence. The last thing a boy going through puberty would want was a pink teddy bear.

So she did the obvious: she followed him.

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